Talk to negotiators; Mansour
Hafiz Mansour, a prominent member of the government-led negotiating team.

Interview with Peace Negotiators – Hafiz Mansour

As the second round of a contentious peace talks is underway between the government-led peace delegation and the Taliban negotiators, Kabul Now has sat with Hafiz Mansour, a prominent member of the government-led negotiating team. Mr. Mansour, who represents Jamiat-e-Islami Afghanistan, has served as an MP representing Kabul. He is key figure of Afghanistan’s Jihad against Soviet occupation. Hafiz Mansour has written several essays on Islam, politics and other social topics. He is a vocal voice against Taliban extremism and Islamic fundamentalism.   

Kabul Now: Given your experience of the first round of talks, how do you describe the Taliban?

Mansour: I believe that the Taliban is a militant group with no written political vision which can help us understand their agendas; they are not even a pure religious movement. They use religion only as an instrument and slogan. Therefore, we face a war-mongering group and there are many imminent challenges in coming round of negotiations.

Kabul Now: If so, how do you negotiate with a war-mongering group which is neither an ideological group, nor religious one?

Mansour: I dare say the Taliban are not a religious movement for they rejected suggestions made by Afghanistan Islamic Republic’s negotiation team that religious sources should be used [as base] for resolving Afghanistan’s problem. We invited them to have a debate on religious issues, they did not accept. We asked them to have an open debate about on the media, they did not accept. They did not accept when they were asked to hand over authority [of negotiating the issues] to ulema of the two [negotiating] sides and solve the issue by referring to Quran or Sunnah.

The highest authority in Taliban rank of leadership does not have religious reasons to justify their acts. It’s indeed [resorting] to populist activities. They have motivated the people who do not sink in to the details of the issue (do not act thoughtfully). When they are told that the God and the Prophet have said this, they would become convinced with their pure heart. But when it comes to the elite (educated people), they also ask about reasons and check with the documents and resources. The Taliban, however, are not ready to do this (negotiate with the elite).

I wish the Taliban were a religious group. Then, we could hand over the issue to Afghan ulema, ulemas of the two sides, or to a credible religious institution to solve the issue. There are credible religious institutions in Islamic countries, from Al Azhar in Egypt, to other institutions in Indonesia, Malesia, Iran, and Iraq.

Kabul Now: It looks like the future of political system is a key topic in the second round of negotiations. Have the government and the High Council for National Reconciliation provided the negotiation team with a specific roadmap on how to negotiate the political system?

Mansour: We have not been given a written document in this regard. But, we can get permission, advice, and instructions of the high officials through the very [modern] and transparent communication means whenever it is necessary.

What is for sure is that Afghanistan’s Islamic Republic [negotiation] team feel obliged to keep the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and all political parties are united on this matter, whether they are in the government or are out of the government. Maintaining the [incumbent] political system is what both the Presidential Palace and members of the High Council for National Reconciliation want.

Kabul Now: To your knowledge, within the incumbent political setup, will the Taliban consent to reach an agreement with you?

Mansour: We think that the incumbent political system can ensure interests of all and do not harm any specific group. This system is formed on basis of institutions and it relies on the people’s vote and will. This is what endorsed by successful experiences around the world and also compatible with the religious principles.

Kabul Now: During your stay in Kabul, did you have consultations on the future political set up, particularly regarding the needs for reforms or impossibility of compromise on changing political system, with community groups? What vision do the people hold about the political system?

Mansour: We had our own considerations and wanted reforms regarding governance in Afghanistan far earlier than peace issue was raised. We were favoring this that the power should be shared and major political and ethnic parties of Afghanistan should be given share at decision making levels.

We see a centralized presidential system, without considering that who is the President, as neither very Islamic, nor in the interest of Afghanistan. Therefore, for me and for the [political] party I represent, it is now decided to work for establishing a parliamentary system and making the governor positions elective. The governors should have their required local authority and shall not need taking Kabul’s permission for doing any small businesses.

Kabul Now: You say the very structure of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan should not be compromised but you describe its power-sharing structure as “not very Islamic and not in the interest of the people.” How you defend the incumbent political system while you oppose part of it?

Mansour: I would explain it in a very clear example. We defend the political system’s main framework or from the main design of the house. This is everyone’s right to [decide] where the curtains should be hanged, who should be placed where, and where the seats should be set. But people make the final decision. As stipulated in the Constitution, the people endorse one thing and then see whether they can make a better one. For instance, in the area of legislation it is very common everywhere, particularly in Afghanistan, that one law is endorsed and then representatives of the people amend it after a while when its deficiencies are specified.

We do not want the political system to be changed. We want some amendments. The current system obtains its legitimacy from the people. The political system is legitimate if the people are satisfied with it. But it’s illegitimate, if the people are dissatisfied. The current system has three independent bodies. They will be protected but there will be some reforms within it for the betterment of the situation.

Kabul Now: Have the two sides discussed about reforms and amendments in the political system?  

Mansour: This issue should be raised from now onward. The [negotiations] procedure was discussed previously. Now it seems that the type of political system, its structure, and formation will be raised in the second round of negotiations. We have the opportunity to talk about it and then see whether we think alike about it or we have differences in this regard. I think deficiency of the presidential system have been elucidated over past 19 years and everyone knows it. All ways have been tested. We offer the peaceful way for bringing reforms and amendments to the Constitution and see it as in the interest of the Afghan people. Though late it might be, but better to have the right one. We all know the harms of opening a wrong and illegal door and don’t see it as beneficial for Afghanistan and for ourselves.

Kabul Now: It seems the Taliban are not reiterating on restoring the Emirate but they have not clarified their proposed Islamic system as well. Given to your familiarity with the Taliban from the first round of talks, what will be their proposed political system?

Mansour: I do not want to make premature judgements. Our people are Muslims and have given many sacrifices for Islam and they do deserve more than anyone else to have a pure Islamic system. But what is that pure Islamic system? I believe that we need to hand over the issue to those who are experts in the area. Islamic scholars and ulema, whether they are inside Afghanistan or abroad, should come and determine that which system is more Islamic. We have good and, in the meantime, different expertise. From Indonesia to Morocco. We should see which types of the Islamic governance (system) is more Islamic and compatible with our situation. It would be better, if the field commanders and journalists avoid going into its details.

Kabul Now: There were many countries involved in war in Afghanistan. Now in regard with the peace process, what plans and initiatives do Afghanistan’s neighbors and regional countries have for future political system in Afghanistan?

Mansour: To my knowledge, the regional countries have not proposed any governance system. Some of these countries, however, have their considerations regarding these talks and think that these peace talks started in Doha, is an American initiative over which Afghanistan’s neighbors have not been consulted sufficiently. As the Iranian Foreign Minister raised the issue very clearly. There are also some other countries that these issues are still ambiguous for them and are not ready as required to cooperate in the peace process.

Kabul Now: Zalmay Khalilzad has pointed out to a new political model in most of his remarks and tweets. What is Khalilzad’s model and how you see it?

Mansour: We have not been offered any [model]. Therefore, I can’t make premature judgements about it. If he maintains such a thing, then it’s considered his personal opinion. People of Afghanistan make the final decision. Though we appreciate any suggestion, but we reserve the right to evaluate what is beneficial and compatible for our people and the country.

Kabul Now: What will happen to fate of the negotiations if you do not reach an agreement on nature of political system with the Taliban?

Mansour: The negotiations are conducted mainly for topics to be raised, points to be heard, and some important things to be taken. The Taliban have persistently said that the political system has deficiencies and the Afghan government is weak. [Addressing the Taliban] come and make this [government] stronger and remove the deficiencies and short-falls. The issue of the [political] system depends to the people of Afghanistan. By [political] system, I mean the police, the army, and education. How they can close these schools. For example, how they can dismantle Afghanistan’s health system. Who has the authority to prohibit the implementation of the law?

We have built a house in 19 years and destroy it again. Its destruction will harm everyone. For example, if you (the Taliban) can manage the ministry of telecommunication or the ministry of energy and water, here you go. But we cannot dismiss these people, students, teachers and employees who are hired here [in these ministries]. This is what protection of the system means. Protecting the [political] system does not mean we are interested in a specific individual, minister, or deputy minister.

The MPs are not performing well. Let’s review the laws in order to let better people come in with better qualifications. The judges are not doing well. Let’s think together what needs to be done. But we finally need to have justice and legislative institutions. I think we all need to achieve a joint understanding [about it]. Protection of the system is not only in the interest of a group, individual, or ethnic [group]. It’s in the interest of Afghanistan. We accept the deficiencies and weaknesses of the system and whoever is interested in Afghanistan, let’s compensate these weaknesses and deficiencies together.

Kabul Now: You named your unnegotiable demands, let’s say redlines. On the other side, the Taliban have their own unnegotiable demands which define their identity. Among them are their leader as Amir al-Momenin. What position do you consider in your system for the Taliban leader?

Mansour: These negotiations are not only a give-and-take business. It’s also a constructive understanding in which we should correct what we have not observed before. For example, what role does Amir al-Momenin have in this era? We would surrender to [their cause] if they could convince us and the nation. But when we see that the whole world say the Emirate is not irreversible, a system that is not recognized by the world, and a position that is not recognized by the world and is scary for the world. So, we expect to resort to a win-win game, not attempting to disappoint a side. Regarding the Emirate and the Amir al-Momenin position, we are more logical to talk and the Taliban to accept. If we have a system that its leader is on the international black list, what he can do for himself, forget about what he can do for the people of Afghanistan.

Kabul Now: The militants who are born during war and grown up in war is another reality. They know nothing but arms. What is your plan about their fates?

Mansour: Firstly, the High Council for National Reconciliation should have developed a plan about it which is not complete. I think that those who are fighting for the Taliban are not new. Years ago, a large number of people, under the title of Mujahideen, did the same thing. We have that experience. I believe that they can get some trainings within the police and the army ranks. Those who are competent to become officers, then they should. And those who want to become soldiers can register for it.

Kabul Now: Are they trustworthy and is their presence possible in the ranks of forces who they have fought against for years?

Mansour: Yes. When we are ready to reconcile with them and appoint some of them as ministers, why shouldn’t we trust to have them among the soldiers. They are also supposed to serve in the judicial power. They are supposed to have presence in the national assembly, and also in the executive body. They are not to be rejected. If they say that the army is weak, they should come and boost it. We are, however, opposing the dismantling of the army, police, and rebuilding them.

Kabul Now: What issues will you raise in the second round of negotiations?   

Mansour: Negotiation is a wide-ranging and lengthy process. It encompasses from ceasefire to political structure. Ceasefire is a priority for us and a pure Islamic government, as they say, is a priority for the Taliban.

This interview has been conducted by Etilaatroz’s Abbas Arefi and translated to English by Mokhtar Yasa.